Urban Cinefile  
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Friday May 22, 2020 


Billy the Kid (Kris Kristofferson) is a law unto himself. His friend and ex riding partner Pat Garrett (James Coburn) has taken a well paid job, as the Sheriff ... when Billy escapes from the Lincoln, New Mexico, jail, he heads to Fort Sumner. There, he confronts his old friend, who's been hired by the Governor (Jason Robards) to bring the outlaw to justice. A strange newspaperman, Alias (Bob Dylan), is so seduced by Billy's mystique, he decides to tag along on the doom-laden journey.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It's one of the great tragic true stories of the old wild West, the story of two outlaw friends ending up enemies as one turns over and becomes a lawman - expressly for the purpose of hunting down his friend. But this film of it was made under poisonous conditions, bedevilled by bad weather and a Peckinpah who was a genius for the first four hours of a day's shoot, before vaporizing himself in alcohol. The story of the shoot is almost as gripping as the story of the film, and in the end, the film is a pale shadow of what it might have been. But this 2 disc release goes a long way to reinstate the film's good name, being closer to Sam Peckinpah's vision than the original 1973 studio release. For instance, it contains a bitter scene between Pat Garret (James Coburn) and his wife, which adds a whole new layer to the character.

The difficulties are hardly seen in the film, although there is a certain disjointed quality to the story. All six credited editors laboured over the material - some of which was unusable and was re-shot in guerrilla conditions, against the orders of MGM President Jim Aubrey. The allegory Peckinpah was anxious to push in this story has not been successfully told, namely the damage that shady politicians were causing the American social fabric.

But James Coburn is mesmerising (we can't even tell he was sick as a dog for some scenes) and Kris Kristofferson maintains a flawed romantic character whose fate is sealed - and he knows it. Bob Dylan, in his acting debut, is little used, but is of interest value.

The commentary on Disc 1 provides useful and informed context from people who know and respect Peckinpah's work. On Disc 2, the same commentators discuss the different version of the so called Preview (or Director's) cut. It's 7 minutes longer than the 2005 version. And the reasons are discussed. Also on Disc 2 are fascinating insights about the making of the film (and other relevant bits) from Peckinpah's one time assistant and partner at the time, Katy Haber, in Deconstructing Pat and Billy.

Published August 14, 2008

Email this article

Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

(US, 1973)

CAST: James Coburn, Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan, Richard Jaeckel, Katy Jurado, Chill Wills, Jason Robards, R. G. Armstrong, Luke Askew, John Beck, Rita Coolidge, Emilio Fernandez, Slim Pickens, Harry Dean Stanton, Donnie Fritts, Rudy Wurlitzer

PRODUCER: Gordon Carroll

DIRECTOR: Sam Peckinpah

SCRIPT: Rudy Wurlitzer


EDITOR: David Berlatsky, Garth Craven, Tony de Zarraga, Richard Halsey,[BREAK]Roger Spottiswoode, Robert L. Wolfe

MUSIC: Bob Dylan

RUNNING TIME: Disc 1: 110 minutes; Disc 2: 117 minutes

PRESENTATION: 2.35:1, 16:9 enhanced; DD Mono

SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc 1: 2005 Special Edition - commentary by Sam Peckinpah's biographers. Disc 2: 1988 Turner Preview Version - commentary by commentary by Sam Peckinpah's biographers; Deconstructing Pat and Billy; One Foot in the Groove, Remembering Sam Peckinpah; One for the Money and Sam's Song (performed by Kris Kristofferson and Donnie Fritts)

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

DVD RELEASE: August 13, 2008

Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020